From Peruvian jungle to a Cardigan charity shop

By Ceri Coleman-Phillips
BBC News

Image source, Muriel Diaz
Image caption, Mrs Diaz on the rooftop of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, where she trained as a nurse

Ninety-year-old Muriel Diaz was born to help people. She dedicated almost 20 years of her life working as a nurse in a South American jungle and another 20 patching up clothes for a Ceredigion charity shop.

Born and raised in Shrewsbury, Mrs Diaz studied music and art before teaching at a school in Somerset for 10 years and later training as a nurse and midwife at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital and Southmead Hospital in Bristol.

From a young age, she said she felt a call to do missionary work, but was not sure where until "Peru came to her vividly in a dream one night".

"I didn't even know where it was," she said, "but off I went".

It was there where she would meet her husband of almost 50 years, Alberto.

"I met him two weeks after arriving, but I didn't take much notice as I couldn't speak Spanish," said Mrs Diaz. "I didn't meet him again until about five years later."

Then fluent in Spanish, Mrs Diaz married Alberto in 1969 and was welcomed into his family. The couple made their home on the Peruvian coast, at the foot of the Andes mountains.

Image caption, Mrs Diaz and her husband Alberto lived in Peru for 32 years before moving to the UK

With Mr Diaz in his electrical shop, she spent six weeks of the year working as a nurse in a jungle clinic, relieving the nurse who spent the rest of the year there.

She said it was quite a trek to get there, and she had to be flown over the mountains and travel by 4x4 into the heart of the jungle to reach the colony.

"It was an interesting time," said Mrs Diaz. "It could be hair-raising as I was the only nurse. There was no doctor and the nearest hospital was 90 miles away."

She said the colony was "really lovely" and apart from the occasional snake, she felt safe living in a wooden bungalow on stilts.

"I remember one of my American friends, who was teaching in the school, went to get on her bicycle and there was a snake coiled around the handle bars," she said.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Mrs Diaz lived with her husband near the Andes mountains in Peru

"She grabbed it by the tail and flung it away. I would have had a fit if that was me."

She said there were larger predators but they would not come near the colony.

Mrs Diaz could not recall how many babies she delivered, but remembered treating "the odd snake bite".

"When I had a difficult case I would read up about it beforehand, so when they came to me I knew what to do," she added.

"It was a matter of working out how much medicine to give them."

Mrs Diaz returned to the jungle every year for 18 years, but she and Mr Diaz left their home in Peru after 32 years as the threat of terrorism escalated.

Image caption, Mrs Diaz has volunteered at the Barnado's shop in Cardigan for 20 years
Image caption, Barnardo's volunteers Mrs Diaz, Valerie Clack and Ayela Ward

The couple came to the UK in 1995, moving to Penparc just outside Cardigan. Mrs Diaz said a friend who she had nursed with had offered them a holiday home.

After settling into west Wales life, Mrs Diaz was asked if she would like to volunteer in Cardigan's Barnardo's charity shop.

Twenty years on, she is still involved and goes along every Thursday to repair donated clothes.

"I really enjoy it," she said. "It seems such a shame if a good quality garment gets thrown in a black bag because a hem is down or a button is missing.

"If I can make it good again and raise money for Barnardo's services then I know I've done something worthwhile."

Media caption, Mrs Diaz said she "isn't a great sewer, but can stick on buttons, do a hem and fix a zip"

Mr and Mrs Diaz have made several trips back to Peru since they moved to the UK, and hope to continue to travel to see their friends and relatives.

When she is not volunteering, Mrs Diaz said she enjoyed landscape painting and learning Welsh. She said she was looking forward to helping the charity shop celebrate its 30th birthday on Monday.

Shop manager Gill Coombs said: "Muriel is amazing, she's been volunteering with us for 20 years and still comes in once a week to do sewing for us".

"We are lucky to have 17 wonderful volunteers. Lots of people in the town have a connection to Barnardo's and working here is really rewarding, even if it's just for a couple of hours each week," she added.

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